This small, well-camouflaged bird of woodlands has a unique foraging technique. Adapted for “creeping” on tree trunks and large branches, the brown creepers use their stiff tails against the bark for support and balance in search of food. Typically when searching for food brown creepers move upwards from the bottom of a tree trunk to the top. Once they reach the top they fly down to the bottom of another tree moving up to start foraging again. While on the tree brown creepers creep slowly with their body flattened against the bark, probing with their downward curved beak for invertebrates such as insects and spiders, as well as the eggs and pupae they find hidden in bark crevices.
Brown creepers prefer large trees – dead or alive – in mature mixed or deciduous forest for foraging and nesting. They especially like wet areas near riparian corridors with dead trees. They escape predators by staying motionless for several minutes often with outspread wings. Their brown plumage camouflages into the tree where they can seem nearly invisible.
Brown creepers generally begin breeding in April, with breeding season peaking in May, June and July. Nests are built by females. Occasionally nests are built in cavities, but for the most part they are tucked into crevices in tree trunks where the bark has separated from the trunk. Nests are constructed with twigs and bark strips lined with feathers, hair and cocoons. The female lays three to seven eggs. They young birds fledge after 15 to 17 days, but continue to be fed by the parents for at least two weeks.
Brown creepers can be seen in Ohio all year long. While generally solitary birds, during the winter brown creepers may tag along with other birds including kinglets, nuthatches, chickadees and woodpeckers. Like many birds during the winter brown creepers change their diet to eat seeds and other vegetable matter. They will on occasion come to suet feeders. Brown creepers are widespread and generally abundant, but habitat loss and degradation is considered a threat to the species in some states, including Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Idaho and Montana.
Want to help the brown creeper? Create a bird friendly habitat. Leave dead or decaying trees in your yard. Plant trees such as Gleditsia triacanthos (honey locust), Carya ovata (shagbark hickory), Platanus occidentalis (sycamore), Acer saccharinum (silver maple), Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch), Tsuga canadensis (eastern hemlock), Pinus strobus (eastern white pine), and arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis (northern white cedars). Shrubs such as Corylus americana (American), Viburnum trilobum (high-bush cranberry), Cornus amomum (silky) or Cornus sericea (Red-Osier) dogwoods will help protect this bird while it is feeding.